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The US car makers are back on their feet but luxury imports are targeting their heartland.
Detroit is finally back on its feet. Record sales in the US last year — with more than 17.47 million new vehicles sold — have put the grim years of the global financial crisis in the rear-view mirror.
But apart from Buick, none of the big American brands had any outlandish concept cars to wow the crowds at this year’s Detroit motor show.
It was left to the luxury importers to capitalise on Detroit’s return to prosperity.
The big news was mostly inside the cars, however, now loaded with more tech than ever before, some of it worthy, some of it a flight of fancy.
Here are the highlights of Detroit 2016.
Gotta love multinational companies. Depending on which country you’re from, this is either the successor to the Holden Monaro, an Opel Calibra or the new Buick Avista. The correct answer is: it’s all of the above. Take note of the round badge on the grille. That could be the Holden logo, the Opel logo or, in this case, the Buick logo. All we know is that it looks stunning and is a safe bet to be headed our way as part of Holden’s rollout of 24 new models by 2020. There’s no V8 under the bonnet but the twin turbo 3.0-litre V6 has V8-like grunt (300kW) and drives the rear wheels, just like every Holden Monaro since 1968. Holden is yet to confirm if this car is coming or what it will be called, but it will at least give Holden something to challenge the hugely popular Ford Mustang.
You could be forgiven for thinking the world is upside down when a US brand whips the covers off a fuel-efficient twin-turbo V6 coupe, and a Japanese brand that prides itself on hybrid technology unveils a high-revving V8, but that’s what happened at Detroit. The Lexus LC500 is a 2012 concept car that made it to production largely unchanged. It turns out, just like the Commodore coupe show car that spawned the modern Monaro in 2001, this Lexus was never meant for production. But the public demanded it be built and Lexus responded. While you’re listening, Lexus, can we have a full-size, car-derived, seven-seat SUV like you promised? And a hot hatch to rival the Audi RS3? Or did they get sidelined to make this niche, hero model?
Most car makers are nervous about using the word “hydrogen” because they don’t want to conjure images of the Hindenburg airship disaster of 1937. So it was surprising to see Audi name its latest concept car the “H-Tron”, which is not far off “H-bomb”. While using the opportunity to talk about its advances in fuel cell technology (the car has a claimed driving range of 600km), the concept vehicle is actually a rather large clue to something we will see in showrooms much sooner than a hydrogen-powered Audi. Squint a little, and imagine different wheels and conventional headlight detailing and you have the second-generation Audi Q5, due within the next two years.
Volvo’s new S90 executive sedan made its first public outing in Detroit. The headlights share the same design as the XC90 SUV while the rear end looks like a Skoda. Volvo is more about interior ambience these days; the tablet-style touch screen first seen on the XC90 has been carried over, as has the understated cabin design. It will share the XC90’s choice of four-cylinder turbo petrol and turbo diesel engines, and a plug-in hybrid will follow. Volvo boasted about a new level of autonomy in the S90 (the steering gently assists automatically at certain speeds) but this modest step forward was overshadowed by the new Mercedes E-Class unveiled on the other side of Detroit’s Cobo Hall: it has technology that can change lanes at the press of a button and the driver can take their hands off the wheel for up to 60 seconds while the car steers itself.
We have no idea what the name means either. It is one cyclist admiring another’s leg muscles? “I can tell you ride”. Regardless, we won’t need to worry in Australia because it will likely be a US-only model. It did have some cool technology to give the world’s motoring media something to write about, other than the boxy Volvo-like shape and LandCruiser-dwarfing proportions. Kia claims the Telluride concept’s cabin has an LED panel that displays “a pattern of therapeutic light to treat desynchronosis (jet lag) and improve energy levels”. And you thought the name of the car was weird.
It wouldn’t be a US auto show without a hero pick-up. This year, Japan stole the limelight in the heart of Motown, albeit in a sincere form of flattery with a ute it makes in the US. This is Nissan’s answer to the hugely successful Ford Raptor, a pick-up with desert-racer looks, beefed up suspension and extra performance. Nissan has copied the Ford Raptor formula to the letter, with wider body panels, tough looks and sports suspension (which coincidentally makes big pick-ups ride better over concrete freeways). But it has added some touches Ford may want to consider: the start button is hidden under a flip-up “bomb safety switch”, just like a Lamborghini. And there is an epic 5.0-litre V8 Cummins turbo diesel under the bonnet (the Ford has twin turbo 3.5-litre V6 petrol power). Tragically, neither is headed to Australia (we’ve got a better chance of convincing the government to switch us to left-hand-drive) but we hear Ford is working on a Raptor version of the next generation Ranger due 2019.